American OO Today

The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Castings! Part IV, building the pilot models

Slowly I have been working with the resin castings for the boxcar and hopper, and building up the models. Which has had a learning curve and a lot to ponder.

The first boxcar built up from the castings is in this first photo next to an original Nason sand-cast aluminum car that came to me in parts. Someone had done some good work with it, drilling a lot of holes and also tapping the holes necessary to assemble the car with machine screws.

With my new resin cast model, I was originally thinking to glue it together. But how? I finally realized that made no sense and added complication, it would be easier for sure to just do it with screws as Nason designed it. This means, however, some of my “good” castings are not real usable as hardly any of the tabs on the back of the sides and ends really filled up well. On one end I cut/sanded the tab off and replaced with square plastic, which worked.

In any case, I did get a first car together. Note that inside I added a piece of strip wood. I think that is the most logical way to hold the roof on, although the builder of the aluminum car was clearly thinking to use a lot of pins to hold the roof in place. It is a nice tight fit, won’t fall off certainly.

Probably I will still super glue the resin body together – maybe just the sides to the ends, leaving a removable floor and a removable roof. Next steps after that include working out ladders and other details of the car, and matching those with the vintage aluminum body. I think in the end you won’t be able, visually, to tell the two models apart.

Next up we have the Graceline hopper, one with my cast sides next to an original in the photo. The sides ended up being about 1/16 inch shorter in length than the original wood block body, so that was modified to suit the sides along with the original frame. The ends are originals from the parts supply and the bolsters are my reproduction castings. It took a lot of puzzling, and a helpful thing to me were the scale drawings in the 1944 Model Railroader Cyclopedia. 

Not seen in the photos are the hopper bottoms on the car in progress. The vintage block bodies I have only have hoppers for triple hoppers with them. I opted finally (shortly after the photos were taken) to make two more hoppers for the pilot model, it will be a quad hopper as designed.

In the final photo is also seen a loose frame for a Graceline hopper. This is a stabilized and rebuilt vintage part that I am hoping to copy next. The idea is to use it to make a complete set of castings for a Graceline reproduction hopper in resin and metal, one that won't need the wood block body. First though I need to seal it really well and work out details a bit better.

To close, I mentioned these are pilot models. It is fun thinking of them that way anyway. If these end up being castings I can make so well that I feel comfortable selling them or if they are simply a curiosity I give away to OO friends, time will tell.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Graceline reefer, restored

I have a soft spot for Graceline cars with the hand painted sides. (More on the topic here)

This particular car I have owned for some 20 years but have never had on display as it was lacking a roof. Looking at this pre-war model again recently I realized it would not take much time at all to work up a close approximation of the original roof. I used a spare late Graceline or Transportation Models roof as the base, adding a Scale-Craft roof walk and Eastern/Famoco hatches. I painted all the parts before adding them to the car. It was also missing ladders on the sides, so those I worked up from Eastern/Famoco castings. Testors brown is a little browner than the paint used on the ends by the original builder but is close enough to not stand out as very different. I did not replace the missing brake wheel.

Turning to the bottom (and the other side of the car – if you look closely you can spot differences in the lettering), it needed trucks. I opted at least for now for a spare pair of early Graceline trucks, the ones that look like S-C trucks from the side but they are quite different. This particular pair rolls fine but the wheelsets are under gauge, so if I decide to really operate this car I will have to work it over further.

The Kadee couplers are probably overkill for a car that I don’t plan to operate, but the long shank versions were an easy install. I do have a few original Graceline couplers, it would make sense to go back and put those on instead.

The hand lettering is distinctive. I love displaying these early Graceline models and do so with no fear of fading. Some lines of printed sides, in contrast, I keep in the dark in boxes (especially Champion).

Thursday, June 22, 2017

S-C reefers with Tichy decals

Part of my recent push to work on reefers involved these three Scale-Craft reefers.

They were all in pretty rough shape and were missing some parts. I decided to put them back to the best condition I reasonably could without being real heroic about it. My main goal for the project was to make use of my newly purchased Tichy OO scale PFE decals. (More on the Tichy decals here). Missing parts were replaced, but I did not change any of the cars particularly compared to how the original builders constructed these pre-war models. Two cars have the frames that have the bolsters away from the ends too far and one has the trucks at the more correct location of models made closer to WWII.With the black trucks on the layout the difference is not very noticeable.

The big thing was painting. I sprayed them with three colors from cans. The sides are the critical item and for that I used Testors Grabber Orange. This is actually a Ford car color but is a good stand-in for PFE orange. The sides were masked off (after that cured thoroughly), then I painted the brown and let that cure and masked again to paint the frame and that strip at the bottom of the sides flat black. The effect came out really well, click on the photos for a better view.

And the decals also really make the cars, they look great. The only thing to note as a big quirk of this decal set is that the logos want to curl up rather than snuggle down! I actually had to put foam and a weight on top of them to hold them down flat after application.

One car it may be noted has the variation of the paint scheme where only one logo is seen per side. That car actually had some paint lift on the side right in the middle, so the logo there covered that.

They are all on trucks rebuilt with the 3D printed S-C bolsters and operate great. I am very pleased how they came out, especially compared to where they started. The sand-cast details are clunky of course but have their own charm, I will enjoy running these cars.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Castings! Part III, fine tuning methods

Continuing the series, I have kept plugging away on this project of trying to make resin castings of American OO car bodies.

The initial castings were OK but I felt that some parts needed a stiffer resin. Micro-Mark sells three types, I had been using the medium type but tried the harder one. For these parts in the photo I think the harder resin is a plus, the section is fairly thin and you can feel the difference. For thicker parts, however, I noted that the difference was hardly noticeable.

So, my plan for now is to use up all the medium resin making those thicker parts and keep working to make the parts that need the harder resin too.

There were also some parts I was trying to make in vintage molds that were made by Temple Nieter in the 1970s. The issue has been even using very heavy coatings of mold release those molds tend to want to stick and tear. Bottom line is that I will need to back off using those molds. Fortunately, I have made some good copies of the hopper car side now and I have originals of the ends and another needed part.

The next purchase will be more of the mold making material. I am wishing I had made my new molds generally larger and thicker, so that is another tweak coming in the next batch of molds. I may try to make another car type in the molds, too, pondering needs and what materials are on hand.

As to offering these for sale, at this point hardly any parts are actually perfect to the level I would sell them, if I do go that direction that is a ways in the future. And, with the cure time involved, I only at best get one good part a day.

But with that I think there is enough info here for any of you out there thinking about making a mold and casting parts to give it a try. It is not that hard to do really, the most time-consuming part is mostly setup. Give it a try!

Return to Part I of series

Continue in series

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The great truck project of 2017

Over the years I know that I tend to get going on projects that are not what I thought I might get going on.

In this case, I hoped to be working on steam locomotives now but the big early summer project was working up some good trucks -- quite a lot of them. Some examples are seen here. Up at the upper left are some of the first part of the project. I like cars in the collection to be on working trucks, and I had several that while they were working Nason trucks they were unpainted and also three-rail trucks. I thought though, they could be reworked, and from experience I know they potentially can roll really well and should be on good cars. So those I updated with vintage Ultimate wheelsets made for use in Scale-Craft trucks, in the process working through a number of cars in the collection (mostly with printed sides) so that every car is on working trucks.

That got my truck supply down a bit, but then the 3D printed Scale-Craft bolsters arrived, as described in this article. I had parts saved from a number of trucks that had been assembled and running at some point in the past, but lacked bolsters to get them running. Which had been bothering me for years, not to mention that I had "complete" trucks that would hardly roll and needed attention.

All the S-C trucks in the photo have the 3D bolsters. The freight trucks above were built up with vintage parts, making sure that the wheels all match.

The 6 wheel passenger trucks have more of a story. I had several more sets of side frames and wheels that would work but no extra of the brass bolsters for many years. Then, in some parts, a supply of that part came but they were oddball parts in that the holes were drilled out (at the factory!) too big! You could not use S-C screws or any other screws the size that would pass through a standard S-C bolster hole.

However, 3D bolsters to the rescue, it is easy to drill them out bigger, which would allow me to use 2-56 screws to finish them off. The shiny wheelsets are Ultimate (Bud Spice) wheelsets. I find that their passenger wheelsets can only be used in the 6-wheel trucks, in 4-wheels trucks things flex too much and they end up shorting out all the time. I have completely run down my supply of these, although I do have some extra freight wheels.

All of the trucks seen in the photo are super square and roll great. And finally the truck project is slowing down, as I ran the parts supply down pretty good and have quite a number of trucks ready for cars. I have just a few more six wheel passenger trucks to attempt to work over, sideframes having been modified by a prior owner but probably can be set up still with Kemtron wheels, which I have a few of. With the other next step being some evaluation of how many trucks are on hand in relation to projects and project cars -- if there are enough extras some of these trucks will end up on eBay to help some other people out.

UPDATE: I quickly gave in and worked over three pair of basket case S-C 6-wheel truck sideframes to make very workable trucks. In total to now I have made 60 bolsters from the 3D parts, they have solved many problems.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Castings! Part II, making the first resin castings

In the set from Micro-Mark they include a casting resin. It is the medium type of what they sell in terms of speed to cure and hardness. I found it to work pretty well for working out techniques with these molds.

The first castings were not great. One big adjustment was that compared to when I make metal castings you need to vent the mold more, to allow air bubbles to escape. I think the weight of the molten metal tends to push out the bubbles better.

Prior to casting you spray on the mold release material for the resin, which is a different release than used when making the molds. The resin material said it had a working life of 7 minutes but in reality, the material was the most liquid – almost like water – for the first 3 minutes or so. Pour it quickly!

My very first test casting I made in an old mold that I had actually never used (a Famoco baggage car end) and it came out pretty well. So, I forged on. I colored the resin using some brown colorant I had from when I tried to make castings in high school, not always the same amount, so the color ranged from white to the darker hue seen.

Another item to note is you have to make wood blocks to clamp the mold tightly with rubber bands. I tried a couple other methods, but in the flat wood blocks and rubber bands really work the best.

My initial work focused on the parts for the Nason sand-cast boxcar.

But with things going fairly well I got to thinking back to the Nieter molds that I had purchased, in particular two large parts, his version of sides for the Graceline hopper and also the Limco P54 (MP54) passenger car. I found that I needed to use a heavy coat of mold release but they otherwise worked fine with some extra venting! This was particularly exciting with the hopper sides, as I have a half dozen of the wood block bodies that are for this car but have no sides and few ends. The actual sides are pressed cardboard, which Nieter modified to make a mold from. I may try his idea with some of the other Graceline sides too, if I can ultimately get castings of high enough quality.

As to the Limco car, I have molds for the sides, ends, underframe, and trucks. Not sure there is much demand for this car, but I will try to make at least one complete model of this too.

In terms of time this all takes some time but not that much also. Basically, there is a setup to do, and you have to have a clear working space for it, but at any given step you won’t spend much over 15 minutes at a time. After that it is just a waiting game for the material to cure.

The good news is many of the castings are usable in terms of not too many bubbles. The bad news is the casting material is a bit too flexible in the thin sections that I am working with to actually use them on a car. So, for now I things are stalled and I have a harder resin on order. It should work better, but will slow production down too as the cure time is 16 hours.

In any case though I am happy with how things have gone so far and be looking for a part III with hopefully some castings that can be used on models.

Continue to Part III

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Castings! Part I, making the molds

Going way back to my roots in American OO, when I was in high school I was making molds and castings with the help of Temple Nieter, described further in this article. Between then and 2008 I had hardly made any new castings in the molds (and all were metal castings as well, I had never had luck with casting resins), and I had not had the inclination to make any new molds either.

But then a project comes along and inspires you a bit, and in my case, it was the acquisition of one almost complete Nason sand cast aluminum boxcar and three key parts of another. I at the least wanted to try to duplicate the missing pieces for the second car and who knows, maybe I could duplicate the entire car?

After considering options I decided to order the resin casting starter set that Micro-Mark sells, and it does have all you need to get started.

To make the molds I used the same methods Temple taught me with really no big tweaks, mostly illustrated in the photos with this article. First step is to put a layer of the clay material (it is not actually clay, it won’t dry out) down (I put it on a piece of metal) and roll it flat. Put the part on it and put it half way down into the clay. You will need to make fences from metal (using clips to keep it closed) and also use a screwdriver or punch to put holes in the clay to serve as keys for the other half of the mold.

They supply a mold release that you brush on, it worked well. Years ago, I found mold release to be a big issue, the one supplied by the maker I used then did not work. I ended up using spray wax which was a solution but not a great one. The liquid supplied by Micro-Mark works.

Then you pour the first half. When the mold material has cured you pull the mold up and invert it. Put up the fences again, apply plenty of mold release again, and pour the second half. And with that you will soon have a two-part mold of your part.

When you have the mold halves separated cut in the needed vents and fill holes with a hobby knife.

In part II we will look at my initial attempts to make resin castings.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Now available: 3D printed Scale-Craft truck bolsters

If you have worked with any Scale-Craft trucks you know that a percentage of the Bakelite bolsters have shrunk and warped. In this condition, they are not usable, the trucks won’t roll. I have at this point a lot of these, saved in a box in hope that someday I could use the pins in new bolsters. My experiments were not real fruitful. 

But now, thanks to Jeffs OO (Jeff Barker) on Shapeways, we now have excellent new bolsters to use to replace the bad ones. They are listed here, I used the version “3D printed in Black Strong & Flexible: Black nylon plastic with a matte finish and slight grainy feel.” They come affordably priced in groups of 16.

The first photo gives an overview of the product. As always, click on the photo for a better view. In the middle is a fresh and unused S-C bolster in shiny Bakelite, unusable actually as there is no practical way to put pins in it (maybe S-C pushed them in place with heat?). The other bolsters seen are all the new 3D printed ones, which have the slightly rough finish. They are black and don’t require painting, but the inside material is still white, so the cuts at the sprue locations will be visible (but not very).

Building them up is simple. After cutting them off the sprues the first step is to drill out the holes. The pin holes you need to drill out with a number 50 drill (keeping a #51 drill handy too, you need it to touch up the axle holes in the sideframes). Next you need pins. Depending on the old bolster these will be easy or not so easy to harvest, but all you have to do really is use pliers and break them out of the Bakelite, which if you are lucky (see UPDATE) will eventually shatter and crumble. I did this over a small bowl to catch the parts and waste. Eye protection being a good idea, too.

This second photo gives a little more detail. The bolster as produced matches the S-C bolsters in size exactly. However, in a lot of situations a bolster that is a little longer is handy. As a result, most of these that I have built up I have put a small washer on with the pin to extend the width of the bolster. It is actually a washer that S-C provided in their kits, I have quite a few around. Thin plastic stock would work as well.

The pin itself you press into place with large pliers. Try not to put them on too far! They are really hard to pull out, but clearly are not going anywhere. Placed correctly the sideframes will be held in place very squarely.

I have been able to build a number of trucks up fairly quickly. These bolsters will really solve some problems. One type of truck in particular, S-C 4-wheel passenger trucks, they need very long and very square bolsters to roll well, and these will certainly help these cars out. They will help out any S-C truck! I am very pleased with every truck I have rebuilt so far.

You could use screws to make the pins too, but really, I think recycling the vintage pins is the way to go.

One other thing worth noting, in a lot of situations with non-S-C cars you need to use a screw bigger than fits in the hole in a S-C bolster. Back in the day people drilled them out, but I hate to try to modify them at this point (for fear of breakage), so this was a big issue. With these new bolsters, drilling the screw hole bigger is not a problem at all, you can use a very large screw if needed and even countersink the head. The material itself drills very easily and is strong.

In short, this product is great and was hugely needed. Trucks rebuilt with these bolsters should roll well for years and years; I plan to buy quite a few more, as I have plenty of all the other parts needed for trucks.

UPDATE: A couple quick items. First, with S-C 6 wheel passenger trucks you don't normally need the spacers I add to most freight trucks. It is worth checking your sideframes to see what you need in relation to the wheels you are using (they vary by production runs) and how deep the holes are for the axles.

The bigger update is about harvesting the needed pins from old bolsters. At first it went pretty fast, as for some bolsters the Bakelite will shatter easily. After the easy ones were done it got ... harder. Basically, the Bakelite is not all the same after all the years (perhaps produced in different batches), and many bolsters when you get to it won't break at all! I have to put them in a bench vise and crush from a couple angles, and then use pliers as the Bakelite has a tar-like quality (if that makes sense). It is no deal breaker as now I am well into my second dozen 3D bolsters, but it is a little more work to get the pins.

Oh, and I did figure out a way to use that new, vintage bolster (seen in the first photo), the "small pin" type of pin seen on some trucks has a pattern than is favorable to pushing on to these Bakelite bolsters. I have five of those and they will be going on trucks soon.

Friday, May 19, 2017

More OO Reefers of Mystery

A few years back I had an article on some reefer sides of mystery, which I am fairly sure now are actually Yardmaster sides, but have not yet been able to confirm the guess with a kit.

Today I have two more reefers of mystery, real mystery cars as I have over the past few years put together a pretty extensive list of reefer sides and car numbers, based on my observations and lists created by prior OO gaugers.

Starting with the side view, I think these sides are by two different makers. Starting with the PFE reefer, the sides of this car are scribed physically to represent boards, the printing is all legible, and was clearly produced by a printing process. The Swift car however has printed lines to represent the boards and the lettering is not exactly the same on each side. I believe they were done by hand one by one, with the small lettering represented by simple marks. Still though, the sides of both cars match in that they are on cardstock of a similar thickness and type.

The roof and ends don’t give clues to manufacturer of either. A look at the bottom of both cars reveals that the bodies are not Picard, they are something exotic. The actual bodies might be by the same maker, the roof pitch is identical and steeper than typical.

I have for years been sorting parts out, and a few parts come up that don’t match known cars. I actually have another body that matches the Swift body exactly, the PFE body being slightly different (perhaps modified by the builder of the model). The main detail is that there are no end blocks on the bodies such as you see on Picard bodies. The floor is full length, the same as the roof and sides.

So, with this article I will put out to readers again, I would love to see a Yardmaster kit (a group of them were listed at the Morlok auction, they were produced), and I would also invite readers to sort out their reefers and see if these same models come up for you. The Swift car is probably a scratchbuilding project by some modeler long ago, but the PFE car I think is by a very small maker, interested in your ideas. My initial guess is the manufacturer is someone very early like maybe Raymond Willey, part of his advertised “complete line” of OO models (more here)—but it may be at this point there is actually no way to tell who produced this PFE reefer.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Quick look: Oxford Diecast OO vehicles

It is hardly news that there are British lines of 1/76 scale with every imaginable OO product. One line I noted was Oxford Diecast and their line of vehicles.

I purchased these two on Amazon, kind of a treat for myself. The majority of the line is of European prototypes, some of which of course were exported to the USA.

This pair are sharp models and of vehicles I recall seeing growing up in Kansas, there were examples of the VW Golf and Vanagon truck roaming around town.

It is very interesting to compare these accurately scaled 1/76 models with the cars I have been using. Most were in the same size range at least, and the comparison is favorable with these models for example:


The Oxford Diecast models almost seem too good to take out of their boxes, when they arrive they are packed like this in a plastic "jewelry box."

Presently I am running 1950s era trains again, but when the 70s/80s return next these will be out in prime locations. Certainly, every American OO enthusiast should treat themselves to at least a couple of these, and undoubtedly I will pick up a few more over time.